Making New Orleans Count

Dec 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

It’s going to require more than fancy footwork if flood-ravaged New Orleans is to collect any February sweeps ratings data next year.

At a meeting last week in what was once the 43rd-largest designated market area, Nielsen executives collected information from about 50 clients, including broadcasters, cable operators and ad agencies, about their needs and sketched out some options for returning to a semblance of normal ratings research as quickly as possible.

There was a consensus at the meeting that Nielsen’s first task must be to go into the market and conduct a new enumeration, or census, to identify who has moved back, where and whether they have land-line telephone service (which is how Nielsen collects data in its metered markets) and whether a demographically and geographically representative sample can be assembled.

“Both Nielsen and our clients agree on the fact that no matter what data we get to the marketplace, we know we want to make sure it’s the most accurate. We don’t want to say, ‘OK, let’s just get a limited service.’ That would do a disservice,” Nielsen spokeswoman Kerry Kielar said.

Ms. Kielar said there are only a couple of weeks within which to decide whether to attempt a diary sample for February sweeps in New Orleans.

But a number of people-many of whom believe that recruiting sample participants (and perhaps collecting data) would require that some Nielsen representatives get on their feet and go door to door-think there is not enough time to activate a diary in time for February.

“I don’t think there is a way to collect good data” in time for February, said Janice Finkel-Greene, executive VP and associate local broadcast director for Initiative Media. Nor is good data available from other markets affected last summer by hurricanes, including Baton Rouge, La., and Houston, she said.

“I would rather have no data than bad data,” Ms. Finkel-Greene said.

With only 100 to 150 homes in what used to be a 400-home sample, “It’s months, not weeks” to get a sufficient number of metered homes up and running, she said, adding, “Maybe New Orleans won’t ever be metered again.”

“There is the opportunity here to try for some very creative solutions and view this almost as a laboratory,” said Chris Rohrs, president of the Television Bureau of Advertising. Mr. Rohrs sees in New Orleans a chance to test everything from Portable People Meters to mailable meters and the use of online research.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Initiative’s Ms. Finkel-Greene said.

Kathleen Keefe, sales VP for Hearst-Argyle Television, said that while the return of meters may indeed be a distant prospect and “diaries are fraught with their own problems,” a thoughtful rebuilding process “provides an opportunity to sell our advertising time based on qualitative research, programming characteristics and, frankly, local television’s uniquely strong ability to sell product.”

“It has to be done and it’s going to take a long time,” Ms. Keefe said. “Nielsen has been approaching this very soundly.”